KENOSHA — Gov.Tony Evers has signed an Executive Order aimed at addressing lead in Wisconsin's drinking water after he told a crowd the legislature failed to properly fund his proposed effort.
The order creates a position within the Department of Health Services to coordinate the state's efforts to combat lead poisoning. It also directs DHS to provided needed staffing and resources to collaborate with local health departments and community organizations.
Evers signed the order at Every Child's Place, a daycare center in Kenosha, surrounded by health officials, lawmakers, and kids.
Evers and health leaders said lead exposure is a statewide issue. DHS reported 1 in 13 Wisconsin kids tested for dangerous levels of lead exposure. Evers said kids with lead poisoning exist in every county.
"Lead interferes with normal brain development and body development and can result in lower IQ, learning disabilities, behavior problems such as hyper activity and aggression. It’s a silent disease that can rob children of their future potential without producing any clear signs or symptoms of its presence," Jeanne Ayers with DHS said.
City and county health department officials believe the move boosts local efforts.
"I think it’s a shot in the arm to the lead program. I think we can do some more promotion in other areas of lead because of this," Mark Melotik, Kenosha County Environmental Health Director, said.
"The more that we can get into it and kind of figure out the long game is for eradicating lead in our environment the better, so we can work on coming up with solutions," Dr. Jeanette Kowalik, Milwaukee Health Commissioner, said.
Milwaukee Water Commons, a community based group that educates the public on water issues, supported the order, saying there has been a lot of work on the local level but the state's backing is critical.
"We can be more strategic in a way that we manage funds, the way that we help communities replace infrastructure. I think getting the messaging out about safe practices around drinking water about what communities can do about who’s at risk and who’s not that statewide effort can really help with those things," said Kirsten Shead, Co-Executive Director for Milwaukee Water Commons.
When asked about lead paint issues that haunt Milwaukee, Evers says it is a concern but this latest effort focuses on lead in drinking water which is prevalent across the state.